Iraqi forces enter remote western town held by ISIL
BAGHDAD – ReutersIraq’s military entered the remote western town of Rutba on May 17 in a fresh offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) aimed at cutting off the militants’ supply route to neighboring Syria.
Counter-terrorism forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, entered the town from the south and took control of al-Intisar district, the force’s spokesman Sabah al-Numan told Reuters.
“We expect we will be able to reach the center of Rutba tomorrow morning,” Numan said by telephone, indicating it was about one kilometer from the forces’ current position.
He said they faced little resistance in breaching ISIL defenses, but expected the insurgents had holed up in buildings and would force street battles in Rutba, 360 km west of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, talking to state-run Anadolu Agency, an Iraqi military official said that the Iraqi forces were in the process of recapturing Rutba.
“Iraqi forces and tribal fighters have liberated a strategic bridge [in the city],” Anbar province police chief Maj. Gen. Hadi al-Rzayej said May 17.
“Iraqi forces are advancing to liberate all districts in the city,” he said.
The military has pushed the jihadists out of much of the northern and western territories they seized in 2014, but the group still controls large areas and key cities including Mosul, which Iraqi authorities have pledged to retake this year.
Rutba is important as a “support zone” which ISIL was using to stage operations into battle areas further north and east, said coalition spokesman U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren.
He told reporters in Baghdad last week the town was not as heavily defended as Ramadi and Fallujah, further east, predicting the group maintained up to “several hundred” fighters at any given time.
The Iraqi army, federal police and Sunni tribal fighters are also participating in the offensive, which began on May 16 when those forces began approaching Rutba from multiple directions.